Electrical engineering - the smart career choice for bright minds
News article from the recent issue of Construction News written by Jeremy Sole

It will come as no surprise to those in the construction sector when I say that New Zealand has a shortfall of thousands of electricians. We’re not going to be able to build or maintain homes, commercial properties and industrial facilities at the rate required without more electrical contractors.

We aren’t alone in this. It’s a problem across many areas of specialist trade. However, having sufficient, competent licensed electricians to meet the demands of the sector is crucial to industry, to the economy, and to public safety. This means the industry has a responsibility to train new electricians – and we can demonstrate that taking on an Etco apprentice is an economically smart thing for a business to do and is beneficial to the whole economy.

To thrive as an electrical apprentice, you need to be bright, technically-minded and have resilience, discipline, motivation, academic abilities and flexibility.


Why then is New Zealand facing such a shortfall of young people applying for specialist trades careers? The general opinion is that this largely comes down to mind-set.

For many years, schools, careers advisors and parents have taken the view that the automatic route for our brightest and best school-leavers is university. I can see how this perception has come about. Twenty years ago, much of the work involved in a trade was repetitive, and academic requirements were relatively low. In contrast, young specialist tradespeople today are moving into exciting environments where most of what they will be dealing with in their careers hasn’t even been invented yet. The construction sector knows that, the specialist trades sector knows it, but it isn’t widely known outside of the industry.

At the Electrical Training Company we take the view that university isn’t the only option for smart students, and we are on a mission to demonstrate to schools that electrical engineering is a smart career choice.


We have a number of Etco apprentices who have either joined us after graduation, or after dropping out of degree courses, having already amassed significant student loan debt. To quote one who was previously studying for a degree in electrical engineering: “I didn’t have the study habit for university. I realised I needed something a bit more hands-on, where I could see right away what I was achieving.”

Others, who didn’t want to do university, have ended up drifting through different jobs, such as labouring for a few years, before deciding they need to get on a professional career path, where they earn while they learn, and are finding out about Etco.

An Etco apprenticeship provides the young person with an exceptional level of study support and pastoral care that is not available
elsewhere. We have a 95% completion rate, compared to a national average closer to 50%, and our apprentices typically achieve 10% higher grades in their exams than other electrical trainees. Demand for our apprentices is such that, at the time of writing, all of our apprentices are currently in a placement.

We employ our apprentices throughout the duration of their training. The host company pays a weekly charge, based on at least 40 hours worked. We supply the apprentice’s PPE and a $1700 start-up tool kit. We cover all training costs and annual, sickness and bereavement leave, public holidays and ACC and KiwiSaver contributions.

We also manage any HR issues for the host company and take all the business risk – if you cannot continue to host an apprentice for whatever reason, then you can end the hosting agreement with a week’s notice.

We have recently carried out research into the comparative costs of hosting an Etco apprentice vs employing your own. The Etco option results in savings of more than $10,000 over the four-year training period, and in some instances there is a saving of over $20,000 over the period.


We are also working to ensure we provide the best-possible training facilities. We recently purchased the premises housing our national office and training centre in Mt Wellington, Auckland, and also opened new training centres in Christchurch and Hamilton. All have undergone or will undergo state-of-the-art refits, including being equipped with the most modern learning technology and learning systems, much of which has only recently become available to the sector.

We also have long-established training centres in Wellington, Rotorua and Dunedin, and provide night classes at 27 other locations around the country.

These moves will both boost facilities while supporting the drive to recruit higher numbers of high-calibre apprentices to meet national demand. At Etco we can supply electrical businesses with apprentices under a host agreement, or the firms can send their own apprentices to us for their off-job night classes and block courses.


Jeremy Sole is the Chief Executive of The Electrical Training Company.